The uses of Cannabis hemp in Vietnam:
History and present situation
Nguyen Van Viet
National University of Hanoi, Center for
Vietnamese and Intercultural Studies
The Project for Ancient Civilizations in Vietnam,
64 K11 Khu Gian Dan, Phuong Nghia Do,
Cau Giay, Hanoi, Vietnam, Tel/Fax: +84 4 756 1641
The present distribution of traditional hemp cultivation in
Vietnam is limited to some northern mountain areas along the border with China,
where the Hmong, Yao and other tribes live. This picture is quite different in
comparison with the historical records.
Hemp is called day, lanh or gai in Vietnamese. Hemp was likely first used for twisting cord, followed by tying nets and finally weaving fabric for clothes. Cotton was introduced to Vietnam at a much later date. The Chinese book Nan Fang Shu Mu Tzang from the 6th century AD describes the flora to the south of the Jangzi river in present-day central Vietnam, and tells of hempís cultivation and use as the main material for making clothes. The imprints of cloth on bronze and wood artifacts from the Bronze Age were recovered from the Hong and Ma river deltas of northern Vietnam along with trapa (stone artifacts used for beating bark to make primitive clothes). Stone and earthenware vases and pottery with cord imprints found at the prehistoric site of Go Trung in Thanh Hoa, Vietnam are evidence for the use of plant bark since 4000 BC. However, it is yet unclear whether or not the plant used for making cord at this time was hemp.
The myths of the Red river delta tell the story of Princess Kim Dung (the daughter of King Hung) and the poor farmerís son Chu Dong Tu. King Hung reigned during the Bronze Age. The story takes place at Da Trach lake (only 20 kilometers by air from Hanoi) which at the time was surrounded only by stands of wild hemp. In this fable the poor teenager Chu Dong Tu was swimming in the lake when the princess was traveling by dragon boat. He didnít want to be seen by the princess, because he was so poor he had no trousers. The teenager hid himself under the sand. As the princessí boat approached, the lake water flowed forward and revealed the teenager. The princess saw his nakedness, led him to the kingís yard and married him. This story shows the relationship between clothes (or their lack) and wild hemp. Until the 19th century Da Trach lake was still circled by wild hemp. The peoples of this region were among the best traditional hemp cultivators and producers in the delta region of northern Vietnam.
Hemp was described in the Vietnamese historical record as a plant of very important uses. Hemp supplied the main fiber for twisting binding cord, tying nets and weaving clothes. Hemp farmers paid a higher tax in comparison to rice farmers. Europeans who came to Vietnam during the 16th through the 18th centuries also described hemp production in northern Vietnam, and hemp was an important export item to Europe and neighboring Asian countries.
Before the colonial era, Vietnamese hemp was characterized as short. Traditional cultivators in the Red river delta call the best variety of hemp lanh. This short variety was only grown for making clothes. The term day xanh (small hemp) is used to distinguish hemp that is native. Hemp imported by the French during the late 19th and 20th centuries, and imported by the Japanese during World War II, is termed day cach (large hemp). Day cach was used for making cords, carpet backing, sacks and nets. The fiber of day cach cannot be used for making clothes, because it is not very fine. Day xanh yields less than day cach, but its fiber is finer, and is very good for making carpet pile. Since the coming of the French in the 19th century, the use of hemp fiber for clothing has no longer been popular. Traditional clothes are still made primarily by the Hmong and Yao mountain tribes. The Hmong weave hemp, ramie and cotton, while the Yao weave only cotton.
Nowadays in Vietnam, there are still a few large factories producing specialty products from hemp fiber, but this industry has nearly died out. Old methods of production and traditional products are not attractive to farmers, who do not like to cultivate hemp. The renewed production and use of hemp awaits for the international development of technology for hemp cultivation, processing and manufacture, as well as a strong international market for hemp products.